NH House panel weighs measure governing manufactured home park co-ops
Bill seeks to address voting rules, costs for non-members
A House Commerce Committee hearing Thursday was supposed to seal the deal in addressing voting in manufactured home park cooperatives. Instead, it threatened to rip open old wounds.
As Louise Rideout, a tenant in the Bear View Crossing Cooperative in Allenstown, described the arrangements on how tenants essentially forced her to pay $300 to join a co-op in order to vote, or pay $200 more in rent, Rep. Paul Terry, R-Alton, could not constrain himself, “This sounds like a poll tax to me. This is outrageous.”
That’s why the bill to fix intended to address, Senate Bill 210, is so “amazing,” said Rideout.
SB 210 started as a more drastic attempt to address the issue, one that the NH Community Loan Fund warned would prevent tenants from buying parks – seen as a substantial source of affordable housing in New Hampshire – in the future. The bill would have required a majority of all tenants for a deal to go forward, as opposed to those actually voting.
As elected officials, the members of the House Committee should know that it was even difficult to get half of a population in their districts to even register and vote, much less get a positive vote from the majority of the population, pointed out Tara Reardon, executive director of the NH Community Loan Fund’s ROC-NH, which encourages and supports creation of resident-owned manufactured home communities. ROC—NH has help to form 142 cooperatives in New Hampshire, and its spinoff, ROC USA, has spearheaded for 150 more in 20 other states.
The Senate eventually amended the bill so only 50 percent of the members voting decided the matter, but it did make it easier to vote by limiting the fee required to join a cooperative to $5 and allowing for absentee ballots. It also would limit the monthly rent differential to $25 between those who join a co-op and those who don’t.
“It puts in very good guardrails in the process,” said Sen. Donna Soucy, D-Manchester, who introduced the bill on behalf of prime sponsor Sen Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro.
But while everyone endorsed this compromise, not everyone appeared to be totally satisfied with it.
A lobbyist for the NH Manufactured Housing Association noted that quorum rules still only require a third of the cooperative members be there for the vote, which could mean a very small number of tenants 300 residents assume a multimillion-dollar mortgage
But Rideout, who said she was “excited” and “happy” about the bill, went on to discuss the situation at Bear View: The co-op has four loans; the rent has gone up since the cooperative bought the park; the co-op is in “non-monetary default”; and the rent of those who chose not to join the co-op have to pay an extra $200 for a total of $764. And then she talked darkly about “retaliation” she and other tenants have faced for backing the legislation.
But the committee’s chair, Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, stepped in to try to put things in perspective.
The law was passed to protect tenants from having the land on which their manufactured home are located from being sold from under them to developers who might jack up the rents so high that tenants could not afford them or even just evict them all to make room for some development.
At the end, Elliott Berry, director of housing justice at NH Legal Assistance, thanked Rideout and other tenants for the courage of bringing such flaws to public attention, but he reminded them that the law was created after one manufactured home park was leveled so the new buyer could develop the land, forcing 55 tenants to abandon the homes they had paid for in search of housing.
“That was a disaster. It was like they were hit by a tornado,” he said. The law, especially with the protections added in the bill, “gives the tenants a fighting chance.”